N￼erves swirled around my stomach as I stepped out onto the stage.
With hundreds of people in the audience, there I was, dressed only in a bikini. How would they react?
I needn’t have worried, the crowd went wild when they saw me – the applause rang out as I tensed and posed, showing off my firm muscles.
I was in my 50s at the time and I guess I was a bit of a novelty. There weren’t many women my age competing in body-building competitions.
It was my first competition and even I was a bit surprised to find myself there. A few years earlier I would never have dreamed of doing anything like that.
Back in 1988, I was married with three lovely children and enjoyed my work as a counsellor at the local school.
But my world came crashing down when my marriage suddenly ended. My hubby and I had been together for more than 20 years – I didn’t know how to be on my own.
Our divorce was finalised just before my 48th birthday and although I didn’t feel like going out to celebrate, my daughter Lauren, then 19, and some friends insisted we have a girls’ night out.
We went to see a movie before heading to a nightclub for a bit of a dance.
I wasn’t really in the mood to be there but didn’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud.
I was sitting alone at a table, when suddenly a young man strode up and dropped down on one knee in front of me.
‘Will you dance with me, please?’ he begged. I couldn’t help but smile at his cheeky approach and I joined him on the dance floor.
"I was twice his age, so I lied."
He introduced himself as David and we danced together in perfect rhythm.
When the song ended, I expected him to disappear, but instead he kept returning to our table.
‘How old are you?’ I asked at one point, thinking he was in his 30s.
‘I’m 24,’ he replied, ‘How old are you?’
I wasn’t keen on admitting I was twice his age, so I lied.
‘I’m 38,’ I told him, thinking I’d never see him again.
I was surprised when he asked for my number and I was even more surprised when he rang the next day.
Knowing it was time to come clean, I confessed my real age. After a long pause he told me he’d still like to take me out on a date.
I’d sworn off men, but I liked David and his big blue eyes, so I gave him a chance. Things moved fast and after just a few months of romance we moved in together.
Our 24-year age gap caused a bit of a stir when we went out, but I didn’t care. With David, I felt vibrant and alive for the first time in years. Seven years later, David and I were still together.
At 55, it was time to retire from my job. Suddenly my sense of purpose and my reason for getting up each day were gone.
Feeling lost, I did my best to stay busy. I’d been going to the local gym for aerobics classes for years.
One day I noticed an elderly woman shuffling through the parking lot, leaning on her carer. Not ready to resign myself to becoming a quiet old woman, I knew I needed a change. Marching back into the gym I went to the weight-training room.
‘I want to be a body builder,’ I announced to the trainer.
Weight training would help me stay fit and strong and retain my bone density. He looked me up and down and smiled.
‘Okay,’ he replied, ‘I’ll train you and you can even compete.’
It was scary to be taking on something so different, but it sparked excitement in me.
I spent months training with the weights, toning and building my muscles naturally without supplements.
Finally, at 56, I was ready to step out onto the stage, tanned and greased in a bikini, for my first competition. I was one of only two women in the over-40 age category and to my surprise, I won! I went on to win the Australian championships in my age category as well.
Now hooked, I worked-out at least three days a week and walked at least eight kilometres on each of the days I wasn’t at the gym.
Each year as I got older people expected me to stop, but I didn’t. I kept entering bigger competitions and won the titles of Ms Universe and Ms Natural Olympia.
It did wonders for my health as well, in my 60s I had the bone density of a 25-year-old!
Now I’m 73 and still competing. I’m the oldest natural body builder in Australia.
I’m now a grandmother to three beautiful children and still very much in a loving relationship with David.
I want women to know that growing old doesn’t need to mean giving up.
You can still feel attractive and happy. Follow your passions and you’ll be forever young at heart.